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Theater great Harvey Fierstein gives back to La MaMa with $250,000 grant for renovation

La MaMa ETC has announced a $250,000 matching grant from the actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, one of La MaMa’s most beloved and iconic artists, to help complete the renovation and historic restoration of La MaMa’s landmark building at 74 E. Fourth St. The gift was announced by Mary Fulham, La MaMa’s managing director.

When La MaMa founder Ellen Stewart purchased 74 E. Fourth St. in 1967, the building had no roof, no flooring and no back wall. She founded La MaMa with the belief that space is vital to the creative process and art can be a powerful vehicle for communities to come together. That belief is at the heart of La MaMa’s mission. With help from the Ford and Rockfeller foundations, and her intrepid band of artists, Ellen managed to renovate the condemned building and turn it into a hotbed of the Off Off Broadway movement.

The funds will go toward the renovation of La MaMa’s building at 74 E. Fourth St.

Fierstein encouraged the public to join in the matching grant effort.

“Ellen Stewart, La MaMa, called us her babies and tended to us in the nurseries that were her theaters,” he said. “Every artist needs a safe place to develop, to experiment, to engage other artists, to seek the feedback of audiences and to grow. I, and thousands of other artists, found that place to be La MaMa ETC. Please join in this effort to modernize and strengthen the nursery for the generations of theater artists and audiences to come. There’s no better way to support the arts than by supporting the arts.”

Fierstein, who credits La MaMa with launching his career as a performer/writer, made his acting debut at La MaMa in Andy Warhol’s only play, “Pork,” and later appeared in Robert Patrick’s “The Haunted Host,” as well as many other productions of his and other’s works. He debuted his groundbreaking “Torch Song Trilogy” at La MaMa starting in 1978, and in 1983 won his first two Tony Awards for Best Play and for his leading role in the original Broadway production.

Fierstein has also written the books of the musicals “La Cage Aux Folles” (Tony Award), “A Catered Affair,” “Newsies” and “Kinky Boots” and the revision of the book for the current Broadway smash, “Funny Girl.” He won his fourth Tony for his unforgettable performance as Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray.” His autobiography, “I Was Better Last Night,” published earlier this year, became an instant New York Times Bestseller.

Mia Yoo, La MaMa’s artistic director, praised Fierstein’s artistic talent and generosity.

“Harvey is a revolutionary artist who breaks boundaries using his heart and his mind to speak truth through his work,” Yoo said. “He paved the way for so many other artists who came after him, helping to shape La MaMa’s legacy. We are deeply grateful for his gift, which will help ensure that artists of all identities can continue to pursue their creative dreams at La MaMa.”

ADA accessibility to all floors, an enlarged lobby area, dedicated community space, outdoor terrace and a buildingwide data network will allow La MaMa to maintain two versatile, sound-separated theater spaces that host performances, art experiences and create expanded opportunities for community-driven and educational programming.

The buildingwide data network gives artists the tools to support new forms of art-making and exchange that can go beyond the four walls of the spaces, giving the creatives and La MaMa the ability to interact with their communities across the U.S. and beyond.

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